While lauding Wednesday's trade with the Kings, it did raise the issue of further glutting the guard rotation, and Thursday's deals helped alleviate that: Hughes and Thabo going out, and Jerome James (done for this season and likely his career), Anthony Roberson (practice fodder) , and Tim Thomas (filling the Noc role as a spread-the-floor PF) effectively bringing zero guards back.
[By the way, fun pull from KC Johnson in finding this Tim Thomas story that was published after his last acrimonious-and-brief tenure with the Bulls. Paxson claimed in the press conference that there are no hard feelings from either side, and even blamed a bit of it on Skiles, which I found fairly amusing]
While some of my wishes of 2 months ago did come true (seriously, I'm so happy that they actually got not only a Brad Miller type but Brad Miller himself) I did put forth some other goals for the franchise:
If some sweet deal of a disgruntled star or above-average big doesn't arise, the secondary goal should be getting some breathing room under the 2009 Luxury Tax to re-sign Ben Gordon. This could mean dealing Nocioni for expirings (again, very unlikely), Hinrich for expirings, or Hughes for some savings in 2009 (assuming expirings for him is impossible). I do not think getting any talent value for Hughes is a priority. So, for instance, a hypothetical deal with the Knicks for Malik Rose (expires 2009) and Jerome James (player option 2010) would be worth it, if only for a better chance to re-sign Gordon.
Then beyond that, dealing Hinrich and Nocioni to free up long-term salary is another item on the wish list.
While the Bulls did help their flexibility in getting more (and smaller) expiring deals for next year's trade deadline, unfortunately they did not do enough to clear 2009 cap money to re-sign Gordon under the tax this offseason (and contrary to some optimistic speculation here earlier today, looks like Jerome James is going to be on the cap next year no matter what) or get under the cap for 2010 free agency (though that will always be a longshot).
At least they haven't done it yet. I still have hope for this offseason.
But the reports that the Bulls didn't take the opportunity to send out Hinrich for expirings because they feel they can get more value this summer is a bit puzzling. While they did clear out 2 guards, with Gordon and Salmons at the SG and Derrick Rose taking the vast majority of the minutes at the point, I don't see how Hinrich 'earns' more than 20 minutes a game from here on out. Will that help his trade value any? I suppose one benefit to him post-deadline is that he won't be playing so much off the ball, which I don't think did him favors towards proving he can be a starting-caliber point again after last season. I do like having him around as a backup guard (especially huge if someone gets hurt), but it's still a luxury.
There's something to be said for a versatile roster, but other things to be said for a Vinny Del Negro. And while it's possible that the Bulls do a deal this offseason to clear '09 salary (I think it'll be much harder, however), will it not be the available room under the tax but a sense of mistreatment that chases Gordon out of town? He said last offseason that he was genuinely confused when he lost minutes after the Hughes acquisition this time last year...the same thing could happen with Salmons, adding to VDN's recent 'hot hand' strategy with Hinrich and Gordon in 4th quarters. I like that acquiring Salmons provides some insurance for a Gordon departure, but it's no reason to use him in a manner that makes Gordon want to leave. A lot can happen between now and this offseason (and end of the 2009 season for that matter, when the '09 luxury tax is actually assessed), so I don't want the Bulls shutting doors when it comes to Gordon.
But in the meantime, this is a better roster than it used to be, and one that should use it's soft end-of-year schedule to get into the playoffs. And with Derrick Rose that's a good thing, even if it leads to a first-round destruction. Though they're only 4.5 games out of the 5th seed...
My desired playoff rotation by that point:
(DNP: Gray, Hunter, Roberson IR: James)
Meh, something like that, anyway. I'll like many of those combinations on the floor.
And I also liked what Paxson had to say in his press conference. He outlined the basketball reasons for the Kings deal, and the roster-glut and salary-flexibility reasons for the other deals. He specifically mentioned not merely 2010 free agency, but positioning expiring contracts to be candidates to take on players at next year's trade deadline.
He even mentioned a desire to keep Ben Gordon. I guess I'll have to take that as enough for now, and try not to fret too much before this offseason. Besides, in the meantime I'm excited to watch this team play.